Stop Highway Boondoggles

More and more of us are looking for better transportation options. Yet we’re still spending billions to expand roads and build new highways every year, even as other needs — from expanding public transportation to critical bridge repairs — go unmet. Across the country there are countless proposed highway projects that are not just expensive — they’re outright boondoggles. We need your help to stop them.

America is in a long-term transportation funding crisis. Our roads, bridges and transit systems are falling into disrepair. Demand for public transportation, as well as safe biking and walking routes, is growing. Traditional sources of transportation revenue, especially the gas tax, are not keeping pace with the needs. Even with the recent passage of a five-year federal transportation bill, the future of transportation funding remains uncertain.

In the past, we’ve identified proposed highway projects across the country that illustrate the need for a fresh approach to transportation funding. In our two reports, Highway Boondoggles and Highway Boondoggles 2, we’ve picked out 23 of the worst examples of irresponsible transportation spending, which combined, would cost billions in scarce transportation dollars. These projects are either intended to address problems that do not exist, or will have grave and destructive impacts on surrounding communities. And they represent just a sample of the many questionable highway projects across the country that could cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars to build, and many more billions over the course of upcoming decades to maintain.

Americans’ transportation needs are changing, so why aren’t America’s transportation spending priorities?

State governments continue to spend billions on highway expansion projects that fail to solve congestion 

In Texas, for example, a $2.8 billion project widened Houston’s Katy Freeway to 26 lanes, making it the widest freeway in the world. But commutes got longer after its 2012 opening: By 2014 morning commuters were spending 30 percent more time in their cars, and afternoon commuters were spending 55 percent more time in their cars.

Or consider that a $1 billion widening of I-405 in Los Angeles that disrupted commutes for five years — including two complete shutdowns of a 10-mile stretch of one of the nation’s busiest highways — had no demonstrable success in reducing congestion. Just five months after the widened road reopened in 2014, the rush-hour trip took longer than it had while construction was still ongoing. 

Highway expansion saddles future generations with expensive maintenance needs, at a time when America’s existing highways are already crumbling 

Between 2009 and 2011, states spent $20.4 billion annually for expansion or construction projects totaling just 1 percent of the country’s road miles, according to Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense. During the same period, they spent just $16.5 billion on repair and preservation of existing highways — the other 99 percent of American roads. 

What's more, according to the Federal Highway Administration, the United States added more lane-miles of roads between 2005 and 2013 — a period in which per-capita vehicle miles traveled declined — than in the two decades between 1984 and 2004.

Federal, state and local governments spent roughly as much money on highway expansion projects in 2010 as they did a decade earlier, despite lower per-capita driving.

Our list of highway boondoggles

We’ve targeted some of America’s biggest highway boondoggles, and are working to stop them from moving forward. Just as importantly, we plan to use these examples as a way to spark a serious conversation about making smarter transportation choices, and giving us more options to get around.  

Click here to see our list of highway boondoggles

Americans’ long-term travel needs are changing 

In 2014, transit ridership in the U.S. hit its highest point since 1956. And recent years have seen the emergence of new ways to get around, including carsharing, bikesharing and ridesharing, and the influence of those new options is only beginning to be felt.

According to an Urban Land Institute study in 2015, more than half of Americans — and nearly two-thirds of Millennials, the country’s largest generation — want to live “in a place where they do not need to use a car very often.” Similar trends exist for older adults. An AARP study showed older adults in general put the creation of pedestrian-friendly streets and local investment in public transportation in their top five priorities for their communities.

Moving America forward 

It’s time to put an end to highway boondoggles, so we are working with concerned citizens, community groups, policy makers and elected officials to send these wasteful highway projects back to the drawing board.

Our lives, our communities, and how we get around are constantly changing. It’s well past time for our transportation spending priorities to reflect these changes, rather than the outdated assumptions that so many of them are based upon. We deserve to have a safe, reliable transportation system that offers real options for however people might want to get around. Stopping these highway boondoggles is an important first step for getting us there.

Issue updates

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Before we spend $2 trillion, report recommends a 'Blueprint for Tomorrow'

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CO clean air commission votes unanimously to consider Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) rule

Today, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) voted unanimously to begin consideration of the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) standard. If adopted, the ZEV program would be one of the biggest actions Colorado could take to reduce air pollution, tackle climate change, save consumers money, and increase the number of electric vehicles available at Colorado dealerships. 

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News Release | CoPIRG | Transportation

The State Legislature just sped up Colorado’s transition to electric vehicles

While the federal government stalls out on clean transportation, environmental, public health and consumer advocates came together Tuesday to celebrate major progress on electric vehicles at the State Legislature, and to call attention to the next major step Colorado can take to speed up vehicle electrification. Advocates called on the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) to begin consideration of the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program this Friday. Adopting the ZEV program is one of the single biggest actions Colorado could take to reduce air pollution, tackle climate change, save consumers money, and increase the number of electric vehicles available at Colorado dealerships. 

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The sad reality of car dependence: 'Denver paved over paradise and put up a parking lot'

Denver draws thousands of visitors and new residents every year, but the city is slowly paving over what makes it special.

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News Release | CoPIRG Foundation | Transportation

CO clean air commission votes unanimously to consider Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) rule

Today, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) voted unanimously to begin consideration of the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) standard. If adopted, the ZEV program would be one of the biggest actions Colorado could take to reduce air pollution, tackle climate change, save consumers money, and increase the number of electric vehicles available at Colorado dealerships. 

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News Release | CoPIRG | Transportation

The State Legislature just sped up Colorado’s transition to electric vehicles

While the federal government stalls out on clean transportation, environmental, public health and consumer advocates came together Tuesday to celebrate major progress on electric vehicles at the State Legislature, and to call attention to the next major step Colorado can take to speed up vehicle electrification. Advocates called on the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) to begin consideration of the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program this Friday. Adopting the ZEV program is one of the single biggest actions Colorado could take to reduce air pollution, tackle climate change, save consumers money, and increase the number of electric vehicles available at Colorado dealerships. 

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News Release | Denver Streets Partnership | Transportation

Denver Earns “C“ on 2018 Progress Toward Safe Streets Goals

A new progress report card released by safety advocates with the Denver Streets Partnership awarded Denver an overall “C“ grade for the City and County of Denver’s progress on the Vision Zero Action Plan designed to improve the safety of Denver’s streets. The progress report card looked at Denver’s 2018 infrastructure goals in eight categories and found that, while Denver met its goals for miles of bike lanes constructed and operational improvements at major intersections, it failed to meet its goals for sidewalks constructed, traffic calming work, and street lighting enhancements.

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News Release | CoPIRG Foundation | Transportation

Governor Polis moves Colorado faster towards electric vehicle future

This morning, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed an executive order that will allow Colorado to take a big step toward the electric vehicle future that we need to tackle our state’s current air pollution problem. The Governor’s order takes meaningful steps toward an electric vehicle future including moving forward on a statewide electric vehicle program, dedicating millions more dollars toward converting dirty diesel buses to electric-powered, and building out electric vehicle charging stations in a systematic way across the state. 

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News Release | CoPIRG Foundation and I-70 Coalition | Transportation

#BaldTiresSuck: New campaign calls on Coloradans to check tires before driving to mountains

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Preparing The Way For 21st Century Transportation

In 2009, CoPIRG worked with a broad coalition to secure $16 billion of federal stimulus money for transit projects that will create jobs.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles 4

America's infrastructure is in rough shape. Many of our roads, bridges, and transit systems are aging and in need of repair. Yet, year after year, state and local governments propose billions of dollars' worth of new and expanded highways that do little to reduce congestion or address real transportation challenges, while diverting scarce funding from repairs and 21st century priorities. This report profiles nine highway projects that epitomize the need for a fresh approach to transportation spending.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Electric Buses: Clean Transportation for Healthier Neighborhoods and Cleaner Air

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Report | CoPIRG Foundation | Transportation

Plugging In

The adoption of large numbers of electric vehicles (EVs) offers many benefits for cities, including cleaner air and the opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Electric vehicles are far cleaner than gasoline-powered cars, with lower greenhouse gas emissions and lower emissions of the pollutants that contribute to smog and particulate matter.

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Report | CoPIRG Foundation and Snowriders International | Transportation

A Guide to Car-Free Skiing in Colorado

For years, the only real way for people to get from the Denver region up to the ski slopes has been to drive their personal car.  The good news is that over the last few winter seasons, options for getting to the slopes without driving your personal car have increased and smart phone technologies have made ride sharing and carpooling an increasingly efficient option.

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Report | CoPIRG Foundation | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles 2

Twelve proposed highway projects across the country – slated to cost at least $24 billion – exemplify the need for a fresh approach to transportation spending. These projects, some originally proposed decades ago, are either intended to address problems that do not exist or have serious negative impacts on surrounding communities that undercut their value. They are but a sampling of many questionable highway projects nationwide that could cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars to build, and many more billions over the course of upcoming decades to maintain.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Solid Waste, Transportation

Before we spend $2 trillion, report recommends a 'Blueprint for Tomorrow'

For all of us who rely on our roads and public transit, and our water, sewage and power systems, the agreement reached by President Trump and Democratic congressional leaders in May to commit $2 trillion to infrastructure should be good news.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Make VW Pay, Transportation

Some states are spending funds from VW 'Dieselgate' settlement on diesel

When it comes to clean transportation, most U.S. states are underutilizing funds from Volkswagen’s nearly $3 billion settlement with federal authorities for violating emissions standards.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

The sad reality of car dependence: 'Denver paved over paradise and put up a parking lot'

Denver draws thousands of visitors and new residents every year, but the city is slowly paving over what makes it special.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

Our 'Driving into Debt' report highlights the impact of risky auto loans and car ownership

Talk about a captive market: For most of us, it's next to impossible to work, shop or go to school without a car. Auto lenders are taking full advantage.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

More cars, trucks, buses will be electric following action by Gov. Polis

Gov. Polis backed up his promise to put our state on a path to a cleaner, healthier future with action. On Jan. 17, the governor signed his first executive order to speed up the transition...

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Solid Waste, Transportation

Before we spend $2 trillion, report recommends a 'Blueprint for Tomorrow'

For all of us who rely on our roads and public transit, and our water, sewage and power systems, the agreement reached by President Trump and Democratic congressional leaders in May to commit $2 trillion to infrastructure should be good news.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Make VW Pay, Transportation

Some states are spending funds from VW 'Dieselgate' settlement on diesel

When it comes to clean transportation, most U.S. states are underutilizing funds from Volkswagen’s nearly $3 billion settlement with federal authorities for violating emissions standards.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

The sad reality of car dependence: 'Denver paved over paradise and put up a parking lot'

Denver draws thousands of visitors and new residents every year, but the city is slowly paving over what makes it special.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

Our 'Driving into Debt' report highlights the impact of risky auto loans and car ownership

Talk about a captive market: For most of us, it's next to impossible to work, shop or go to school without a car. Auto lenders are taking full advantage.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

More cars, trucks, buses will be electric following action by Gov. Polis

Gov. Polis backed up his promise to put our state on a path to a cleaner, healthier future with action. On Jan. 17, the governor signed his first executive order to speed up the transition...

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post

For all of us who rely on our roads and public transit, and our water, sewage and power systems, the agreement reached by President Trump and Democratic congressional leaders in May to commit $2 trillion to infrastructure should be good news.

Blog Post

When it comes to clean transportation, most U.S. states are underutilizing funds from Volkswagen’s nearly $3 billion settlement with federal authorities for violating emissions standards.

News Release | CoPIRG Foundation

Today, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) voted unanimously to begin consideration of the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) standard. If adopted, the ZEV program would be one of the biggest actions Colorado could take to reduce air pollution, tackle climate change, save consumers money, and increase the number of electric vehicles available at Colorado dealerships. 

News Release | CoPIRG

While the federal government stalls out on clean transportation, environmental, public health and consumer advocates came together Tuesday to celebrate major progress on electric vehicles at the State Legislature, and to call attention to the next major step Colorado can take to speed up vehicle electrification. Advocates called on the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) to begin consideration of the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program this Friday. Adopting the ZEV program is one of the single biggest actions Colorado could take to reduce air pollution, tackle climate change, save consumers money, and increase the number of electric vehicles available at Colorado dealerships. 

Blog Post

Denver draws thousands of visitors and new residents every year, but the city is slowly paving over what makes it special.

Transportation | U.S. PIRG

Volkswagen settlement scorecard

Volkswagen was caught cheating emissions laws and settled with federal authorities. The settlement included nearly $3 billion for the Environmental Mitigation Trust. How well does our state rank on plans for investing VW mitigation trust funds in clean transportation projects?

 
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